Building a Support System for Incest Recovery
Sidebar moment here everyone lean in so you can hear me. (a joke) As survivors of incest and abuse, we all respond to abuse in different ways and we all have different areas where we are damaged. Some people have more damage, some have less. It can be hard for some people who have been abused to understand someone else who has been abused, especially if the situations of the abuse are very different.
Even in similar abuse situations in group therapy, I've seen one lady tell the other lady: “Just get over it.” Not cool! Some people are more sensitive to being hurt and some aren't, so accept that we are different and we react differently to abuse. Also, some survivors are truly so suppressed or highly functional (kudos) that in their world they believe that they have gotten “past it”.
You many never understand other survivors of abuse but always strive to be compassionate and supportive.
In my case, the abuse started during my early formative developmental years. My father – the psychopath pedophile – well, he was very adept at playing mind games, and would deliberately twist truth into lies so that my reality became whatever he wanted me to believe it was. This kind of mental cruelty and brainwashing – combined with the severity of the incest, the brutal physical abuse, and the length of time (almost a decade of torture) – meant that the level of damage and devastation to my mind, body and soul was complete. It went to the core of me, and in my mind it was like a nuclear bomb.
Some survivors really do shed the abuse and heal and get past it, truly amazing people. Some survivors who claim to be past it but are so messed up that everyone notices it within minutes of talking to them, except them. Either way both survivors high functioning or still struggling your stories are invaluable to others. And I hope that everything I share here will have a positive impact in your life.
Survivors of incest and abuse need a strong support system.
OK, now back to what I really wanted to talk about...
In the past,
It was very hard for me to reach out to people. I spoke of what it was like (in the beginning) as a child reaching out to people for help. The results of all that recapped-It was a disaster. The counselors taught me that, since I am safe now, I can begin to open up and reach out to others. In group counseling, it is nice to have the support of your fellow survivors. But once you leave your group counseling or your private counselor, you will need more support in your day to day world.
Family can be a source of comfort. Not your family of origin where the incest occurred, although sometimes (rarely) you can have members of the family of origin be supportive. I am talking here as an adult survivor with her family husband, friends etc, because for me it was my husband. For the ones closest to you, it’s entirely probable (like in my case) that they want to be supportive, but don't know how and often with good intentions make things worse. And they eventually do get tired of hearing about it, or get tired of being in the trenches with you. It’s true, and it doesn't mean they don't care. It means they are human and have limits too. So don't judge your close loved ones too harshly on this matter.
Rather get a broader base of support for yourself so no one person is overwhelmed.
Broaden your incest recovery support base.
Expand your support base to friends as well. And learn how to turn to different people as you develop your new healthy coping skills, so that no one friend or family member gets worn out. This can be overwhelming to others too. I developed a support system of many people who I could turn to at different times and not overwhelm any one of them. My mom and brothers (after we reconciled), my husband, my church friends, my close neighbor friends, my personal friends, my group counseling friends, and all three of my counselors. For a short period in my life, I had friends at church that were supportive. Church can be an awkward place. For me, it was most of the times. My writings and poetry also were a comfort to me when I needed to express feelings or explore feelings.
Now some people are, (I cannot to this day comprehend why) very cruel to (us) survivors of abuse. I have been treated like a leper. I have been blamed for saying that I did something to deserve it. I have been fired from jobs because I had talked about being in a recovery group at work, and it made a person feel awkward. She complained and I got fired. I have been told that because I was adopted it wasn't actually incest. (This one really makes me want to "snap off" on a person). Through sheer ignorance, I have had people to stop being my friend because I was an incest survivor, and you can't trust survivors since we are all crazy. (I did “snap off” on this person and read him the riot act). So I guess I proved him right. Ha Ha.
I have had people tell me I was a liar, that nobody who adopts a child would ever do that. I have had people tell me that they don't believe that could have ever happened, it’s just too extreme. I must have got that from a movie or something. I think if you look at the total devastation I experienced as an outsider, I would say: “OK, yes it does seem like something out of a movie. It’s surreal, but it did happen.” Pick and choose carefully who you open up to, and keep your guard up at all times on this because some people don't want their perceptions of reality to be threatened. And stories like this can be a threat to other people’s perceptions of reality.
Some people are just so ignorant that they believe we are "the problem" and shun us for the abuse. That's their problem, ok, not yours. Move on… and do not take their attitudes, or rejections, or belittling on as a burden, ok? I want you to be like a duck and let it wash right off your back and keep on going. Speaking of being like something out of a movie, as a little girl I loved Disney movies. One day I was watching Alice in Wonderland. The movie terrified me, and I began crying and had to leave the room. I cried and cried, my body hurt, I was shaking and completely falling apart. I had nightmares about that movie for a long time as a little girl. I never understood why until a few weeks ago. A close friend I was talking to told me that the movie was written by a pedophile*. Everything in that movie made me feel like the insanity of the abuse, it was so traumatic to me. I did force myself as an adult to watch it all the way through to the end to analyze my own emotional and physical reactions to that movie. It was no less disturbing or traumatic as when I ran away from it as a child. I will not watch that movie ever again… it deeply disturbs me.
I want to recap because I covered a great deal which seems random but it is all intertwined in the process of reaching out.
The average person can only handle about 1 conversation a week about your recovery. Then, after a month or two, they begin to burn out on your stories and your crying. And that’s ok. Don’t get mad at them. You are going to build a broad support system for yourself so that no one single person becomes your only release and consequently becomes overwhelmed, and eventually may stop being your friend.
A broad based support system for the incest survivor can look like this, or some variation:
- Your main support should be in the form of individual counseling and developing healthy coping skills.
- Another great area for support is group counseling
- Then trusted close friends
- Maybe a women’s group at a church or other organization
- Then maybe your spouse or significant other, but be careful. They are already putting up with you full time anyways, so try not to overload this one. I know we both put up with each other's crap but this is heavy stuff, so just give your significant other breaks from it, from time to time.
- Quiet personal time for reflection and prayer
- Time for your exercise
- time for your artful expression
Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, you will rise up again whole and renewed!
* Pedophilia Diagnosis Goes High-Tech - “Billie Jean Is Not My Lover”
by Brian Carty, MD, MSPH 06-20-2008